Four months after FC Cincinnati last played a match, the Orange and Blue return to the field Saturday night when they face Columbus Crew SC in the MLS is Back Tournament. Yes, the #HellisReal Derby can be played across state lines.
It’s a huge match for a variety of reasons. While it’s FCC’s first match in the tournament – and group stage matches count toward the 2020 regular season standings – and a derby, Saturday night is also the first time that head coach Jaap Stam will lead the club since he was appointed in May.
Here are the key storylines approaching kickoff:
It’s still a #HellisReal Derby – even in Orlando
Greg Garza said he’s excited for his first derby with FCC after missing both last August.
“Even though it’s not in either of those cities and we won’t have fans driving from one city to the other and seeing that sign, at the same time, I do think it’s still a very special game,” Garza said. “You always want to measure yourself with the top teams, and I think this is a very good opportunity for us to do that, not only for our pride, for the city and to win it for the state, but also for ourselves and measuring ourselves with a team that has a lot of quality.”
This is the first time FCC and Columbus have met in a tournament since 2017, when Cincinnati won, 1-0, in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The clubs drew, 2-2, at MAPFRE Stadium last summer, before the Orange and Blue were defeated at Nippert Stadium, 3-1.
A result in this match could go a long way. Not only are bragging rights on the line, but three points would jumpstart a team in the group stage before both sides face Atlanta United FC and the New York Red Bulls over the next few days.
Although Stam was wearing a mask, you could tell he was smiling when he said he knew how the derby got its name.
“That’s because of the sign on the interstate, isn’t it?” Stam asked. “I know a little but about the history of the derby … It was my first question as well, of course.”
How will Stam’s Cincinnati play?
If that was the Dutchman’s first question about the derby, then this is the first question about Stam entering his first game leading the club: What can we expect it to look like?
With limited time to implement a new playing style and system, the conditions are challenging for FCC entering their first match in four months. But add the dynamic of the team playing inside the “MLS Bubble” and the difficulty only grows for Stam ahead of his MLS debut.
But players have praised his coaching style and principles since he arrived and have said he creates a tough atmosphere that should show during matches.
“There’s no easy spots to win in the team,” Haris Medunjanin said. “Everybody should fight for their position. He came and everybody had their chances again, so everybody’s sharp in practice and hopefully we can maintain that during this tournament and show to the people what we’ve learned from him.
“It wants to play football and it’s the same, like Yoann Damet wanted to play football. We want to prove to people that we can play against any team, especially here.”
What can we expect from FCC’s tournament opener?
The team arrived in Florida on June 29 to adjust and acclimate to the swampy conditions that awaited in Orlando. It was just as much of a priority for players to stay healthy as it was to keep their fitness ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament.
So far, FCC have had all negative COVID-19 tests, and Jürgen Locadia is listed as day-to-day with a thigh injury.
With nearly a full squad to choose from, what will the starting XI resemble, and how will Stam maximize the use of five subs? This will be the first time the club can use as many subs in a competitive match since 2016 in the USL.
FC Cincinnati have played two regular season matches since Oct. 6. Now, they’re on the cusp of three games in 12 days.
FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew SC
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m.
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports
Weather: Mostly Cloudy, 81 Degrees (82% Humidity)
Broadcast Stream Info: FS1, TUDN (Spanish), TSN (Canada); Fox Sports Go
- Fanendo Adi scored five goals in 25 competitive appearances for FC Cincinnati in 2018 and 2019. He is the FCC’s first Designated Player in club history.
- Derrick Etienne Jr. made five appearances for FCC in 2019.
- Kekuta Manneh played in 19 games for Columbus in 2017.
Allan Cruz and Kendall Waston have played with Waylon Francis and Luis Díaz on the Costa Rica national team.
- Crew SC’s Younes Mokhtar played with Przemysław Tytoń (2010-12) and Jürgen Locadia (2011-12) at PSV Eindhoven. FCC general manager Gerard Nijkamp signed Mokhtar at PEC Zwolle in 2016 before the winger left the eastern Dutch team in 2018.
- Eloy Room has played with two FCC players. He and Maikel van der Werff were teammates at Vitesse from 2015-17, before Room and Locadia became teammates at PSV in 2017 and 2018.
- Nick Hagglund spent time with two Columbus players at Toronto FC. He and Jordan Hamilton were at TFC together from 2014-18, while Josh Williams joined the Canadian side in 2015 and 2016.
- Fatai Alashe and Andrew Tarbell played for the San Jose Earthquakes together from 2016-18.
- Greg Garza (2018) and Brandon Vazquez (2018-19) both played with Darlington Nagbe at Atlanta United FC.
- Garza also played with Nagbe in at match for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2017. Garza and Gyasi Zardes have appeared in the same USMNT game together on three occasions in 2015 – including once during the Concacaf Gold Cup.